Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism

By Karen G. Ruffle

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 5 halftones, 1 tables, notes, index

Not for Sale in South Asia

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1371-0
    Published: February 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7797-5
    Published: July 2011
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8568-5
    Published: July 2011

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

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In this study of devotional hagiographical texts and contemporary ritual performances of the Shi'a of Hyderabad, India, Karen Ruffle demonstrates how traditions of sainthood and localized cultural values shape gender roles. Ruffle focuses on the annual mourning assemblies held on 7 Muharram to commemorate the battlefield wedding of Fatimah Kubra and her warrior-bridegroom Qasem, who was martyred in 680 C.E. at the battle of Karbala, Iraq, before their marriage was consummated.

Ruffle argues that hagiography, an important textual tradition in Islam, plays a dynamic role in constructing the memory, piety, and social sensibilities of a Shi'i community. Through the Hyderabadi rituals that idealize and venerate Qasem, Fatimah Kubra, and the other heroes of Karbala, a distinct form of sainthood is produced. These saints, Ruffle explains, serve as socioethical role models and religious paragons whom Shi'i Muslims aim to imitate in their everyday lives, improving their personal religious practice and social selves. On a broader community level, Ruffle observes, such practices help generate and reinforce group identity, shared ethics, and gendered sensibilities. By putting gender and everyday practice at the center of her study, Ruffle challenges Shi'i patriarchal narratives that present only men as saints and brings to light typically overlooked women's religious practices.

About the Author

Karen G. Ruffle is assistant professor of history of religions and women's and gender studies at the University of Toronto.
For more information about Karen G. Ruffle, visit the Author Page.


"Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice is a study of interest to students and scholars of Islamic practices among the laity of the Indian sub-continent."--Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies

"An important contribution to the extant scholarship on the piety and practice of South Asian Shi'ism. . . . Ruffle’s personal relationship with members of the Hyderbadi Shi’a community and her empathetic reading of their spiritual lives brings a palpable intimacy and immediacy to the study.”--Religion

"Unique among recent ethnographic studies. . . . Readable and moves deftly from description of rituals and texts to abstract theorization. . . [and] will be of interest to a wide range of readers."--International Journal of Middle East Studies

"Combining impressive, on-the-ground fieldwork with extensive readings in primary-source documents, Ruffle provides valuable, thorough, and original insight into Shi'i devotional literature and ritual practice. This is a very significant contribution to Islamic studies."--David Pinault, Santa Clara University

"Karen Ruffle's highly original, in-depth study offers previously undocumented ethnographic details that reveal the gendered everyday ritual practices of the Hyderabadi Shi'a Muslims. This work joins a newly emerging tradition of scholarship that is multidisciplinary, regionally diverse, and attentive to pluralism within Islam."--Tazim R. Kassam, Syracuse University